Many cynical users assume Web browsers do little more than dutifully render HTML. The content is the most important part, they say, so it makes little difference which browser you use.
This may be true for basic tasks, but for all their similarities, browsers differ in subtle and significant ways, thanks to the hard work of vendors looking to establish any edge that might attract more users to their stack of code. There are even some features that make each browser unique, and in the technology world, unique functionality often points the way forward.
To get a better sense of the evolution of today's browsers, we compiled the following list of promising features unique to one browser. Don't think this was an easy task; many of the most important and competitive areas are hard to pin down. For instance, all browsers tap the power of multiple cores and make use of the video card, but each approaches this territory in a slightly different way.
Also note that while some of these features are found on only one browser, many can be imitated on other browsers by installing extra code. Some of these extensions even allow you to change the appearance of a browser so that it looks like another -- you get the guts of one and the face of the other.
Given the pace of browser updates these days, don't be surprised to find the best of the bunch being copied by competitors soon. After all, yesterday's browser bells and whistles are today's must-have features. Grab quickly.
Enter SPDY, an entirely new protocol Google has created to fight this sluggishness. Not many websites speak SPDY yet, but Google claims those that do can deliver their information about twice as quickly. Chrome is the only browser currently working with SPDY-enabled websites, many of which happen to sit in Google server farms.
Firefox: Deep extensions